Rapper Kenton Dunson Looks to Defy All Odds as a True “Outlier” in Hip Hop

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media

When I came out with “Kenton Dunson: A True ‘Outlier’ in the Evolution that is Hip Hop,” the rapper out of Maryland was working on maybe the biggest project of his music career thus far; Outlier, which will drop this month. I was able to catch up with the “outlier” himself at his album release party in May where he showcased several songs from the new album at the 8×10 in downtown Baltimore.

Outlier couldn’t have been a more perfect title for Dunson’s newest album as it is a good representation of him not only as an artist, but as a person too. The term “outlier” refers to “a person or thing differing from all other members of a particular group or set.” Dunson’s music exemplifies this definition. His music has one of the most unique sounds I’ve heard in recent years. That’s what jump-started our dialogue.

The beautiful thing about talent is it sparks dialogue, but when you get to see who the person is behind their art, that’s what establishes real content.

Dunson’s music, his oneness with his audience and his passion for mastering his craft is why I’m finding myself writing this story — a story that has combined the talent of a young journalist on the rise and a young artist looking to create a lane of his own. This is the story you might not typically get when typing an artists’ name into a search engine. I guess in a way, this collaboration is also an outlier in its own right.

Dunson says that he’s striving to create a similarity between he and a few of the big names in the hip hop industry today; guys like Kanye West, Drake and Kendrick Lamar. Don’t get the wrong idea though, Dunson does not want to be these guys nor does he want to make the same kind of music as them. Dunson simply admires the fact that they were each able to make “mainstream” what they desired for it to be.

Kanye made the mixture of hip hop and fashion mainstream. As Dunson would say, Drake made being a black rapper from the suburbs mainstream. Kendrick made storytelling and an intellectual-style of rap mainstream again.

This is the impact and the wave that Dunson looks to create as his own man in this industry. The jury is still out on what exactly Dunson’s “mainstream” will look like, but I would have to take a wild guess and say that it would involve him being an outlier, standing out from what’s considered the norm and to be honest with you, he’s got the talent and the discipline to do it.

I’ve referred to Kenton as a “dope” artist in the past. I know that in our society today that’s become the cool thing to say and many people have their own definition for what “dope” actually is. For me though, “dope” is all about being different, having substance and being for the people. That’s why Kenton is dope. His music is different because it stands out from the rest. His art — which is also his music — contains substance and he’s for the people.

How do I know this?

There are not many artists who embrace the “underground” way of doing things and I’m not talking about in terms of music. I’m not the conventional type of journalist. I’m going to search for the unknown, the message that lies between the lines. Dunson has embraced my style of journalism, but I’m not surprised.

Why?

It’s because he strives to do the same in his music. His location, the company he surrounds himself with and his bourbon are all elements in his developmental process when it comes to making good music. Dunson’s the kind of artist that also searches for the unknown between the lines of his lyrics when thinking about what he wants to convey to the people.

Now you see why he couldn’t have picked a better title for his newest project and when you go to pick up this new sound — which you will because you long for music with substance — you’ll too see why Outlier is more than a title or a term; it should be the way we live out our careers and our lives.

After all, Dunson always reminds us that “we are all outliers,” right?

The Interview 

Checkout the interview I did with Dunson just moments before he took the stage in front of a packed crowd at the 8×10 in Downtown Baltimore the night of his album release party.

Q. How long have you been a full-time artist now?

A. Since 2010. February 2010, I quit my job at T. Rowe Price as an Investment Advisor. So, ever since then man.”

Q. Since you’ve done that, what would you say has been the biggest challenge as a full-time artist?

A. Well, of course you deal with the financial and like losing your apartment, losing your car. You know, it’s all a domino effect. Losing a lot of material things, but gaining a lot of artistic freedom I guess.

Q. How has that changed your perspective on life?

A. I guess it simplifies life like what’s important to you. If you can really make it through it and tough it out, you’re meant to do it. It just makes life a little more simple and helps you focus on what’s important and why did you do it.

Q. What do you have planned for the fans tonight with your set?

A. Being that it’s the Outlier first listen and pre-release party, I’m playing six new joints. Never played them before. They’ve been living in the studio. So, six of the tracks that are going to make Outlier, I’m doing live tonight in its purest form. So, I hope I remember all the words haha.

Q. Now, you have Progressions, you have Creative Destruction I and II, you got the Investment and now you have Outlier. Where does Outlier rank among those? 

A. They’re all separate entities. They’re different periods of my life. Even though they all dropped within the last four or five years, they definitely live on their own. So, I can’t really rank them. I respect each of them as kind of a stepping stone.

I really appreciate each project for what it is, but I’ll say Outlier is really a combination of everything that I’ve learned over the whole time and what I’ve wanted to say. I feel like I’m finally at a place where I know what I represent and I know what I want people to take away from me at the end of the day. So, it’s definitely a combination of those past four projects.

Q. Now, you’ve actually been quoted saying that in terms of Outlier, this album is your best work and most important work up to date. What do you mean when you say that?

A. When you’re a full-time artist, no one knows what goes on behind closed doors when it’s studio time and when you’re recording that album in the closet. This right here is the moment where I got to do some soul searching. I got to figure out what do you want to say? Okay, it’s wide open. You’ve got a million hits on a song. You got this. You got that. What do you want to say right now?

I made this album like everything depends on it. I probably made 40 or 50 songs. 10 make the project. So, I’ve never taken this much care to a process. Some people say that’s being a perfectionist. Nah, I just really want to deliver something that can live on.

Q. What’s next for you man?

A. Man, it’s Outlier season. We’re in Baltimore tonight. This is going to be the first listen for people. June is the month man and I’m dropping a single called “Tremendous.” I don’t really consider it a single, meaning it’s like made for radio or anything like that.

It’s going to be the intro to Outlier and I’m going to drop it next week. So, it’s Outlier season. We’re just really trying to make sure that anything we drop right now reaches the most people possible and that message just spreads. It’s Outlier season and after that we’re hoping to get on the road for sure.

Q. You talked about the soul searching you’ve done in this time putting together this project. What’s something new you learned about yourself in this process man?

A. I learned that I’m not scared to delete a dope line even if it’s the sickest bar. I’m not afraid to delete them if it doesn’t meet the purpose of the song. There’s a lot of people that can freestyle real dope, but I really learned that I am becoming a songwriter and I’m not afraid to bring up stuff that has affected me in my life.

I’m really putting it all out there right now. So, I learned that I’m gradually opening up. I heard Kanye say the other day that as an artist your job is to get away with as much as you can get away with and I finally felt like with this Outlier period, I let it go.

I’ve learned a lot about myself. It’s like a cathodic process. It’s really helped me get over a lot of stuff I didn’t understand growing up and when you hear it on the track, it’s like ‘damn I really released that.’ I can move on, so I learned that art is my true calling, it’s my truest expression and I think a lot of people are going to relate to it for that simple fact.

To stay tuned for more blog features, follow my blog karlsinternmedia. Make sure you also subscribe to my YouTube channel while you’re checking out the feature. Most importantly, stay tuned to Kenton Dunson’s movement by visiting dunsonmusic.com and pickup his new album Outlier. Follow him on Instagram @kentondunson. 

Instagram: @kpnelson2

Twitter: @KARLitos__Way

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